My holiday season officially kicked off last weekend when I attended a friend’s performance of the Angel City Chorale, a nonprofit choral group that annually puts the merry in Christmas and the happy in Chanukah with its annual concert and sing-along.
Sitting in the back row of an acoustically cavernous Methodist church, I couldn’t help but think of all the Christmases past where these familiar melodies sparked the proverbial holiday spirit. Even though I’m not a particularly religious person, the sounds of “O Holy Night” and “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” evoked nostalgia, spirituality, and an inexplicable holiday urge to give.
Don’t get me wrong: I can be just as much a Scrooge as the next guy. There was a time when buying presents and wrapping gifts became so pressure-cooker intense that I finally gave it up altogether as part of my triumphant liberation from family duties and obligations. Without buying so much as one trinket for a niece or nephew, I skipped town one holiday season in delirious joy at escape. I figured Christmas would go on without me and my myriad presents that seemed to have lost their worth based on the resentful attitude of the person giving them.
Looking back I realize that it was an indication of my beleaguered state of mind at the time. I was recently separated from my husband, my mother had passed away, I was having difficulties with my siblings — need I say more? I was one present away from putting a paper bag over my head. My spirit and pocketbook were both depleted.
Things have changed — as they always do — and though I still haven’t won the lottery, I’m feeling more like giving than ever before. I even look forward to finding the “perfect” gifts for some of my friends. I’ve honed my Christmas list to include just those people I know well enough that a gift may have some value (sentimental or otherwise) instead of something that they would rather just toss out.
Speaking of tossing, I’m also on a mission to discard all the things that I have kept over the years that have lost their usefulness or I just plain don’t like. After reading Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” I completely turned around my way of looking at “things” — which I feel pretty confident in saying we all have too much of.
Being a disciple of my Nisei mother’s “save-it-for-a-rainy-day” philosophy, which was just short of hoarding, I threw caution to the wind and discarded that saggy, baggy 40-year-old coat (or coats) hidden in the dark recesses of a spare closet. To make tossing more fun, I decided to invite a bunch of friends over for an unusual gift exchange. I told them to bring an item they owned that they wanted to cast off à la the theory of “one’s man trash, another man’s treasure.” (Kondo would disagree with that adage; she believes if you don’t like something, don’t try to pawn it off on a friend or family member.)
When it comes to giving something that really counts, i.e., money, it’s also that time of year when we are barraged with solicitations. All our favorite charities use this time to give us one last shot at 2014 tax deductions. With the myriad of requests from everything from the American Cancer Society to animal rescue groups, it’s hard to decide where to put my pennies, but there were a couple right here in our community that immediately caught my attention.
Grace Lee Boggs, now 99, has devoted her life to community activism fighting for such causes as women’s rights, tenants’ rights, and racial equity. A group of her friends are asking for donations to help “keep her in her home in Detroit until she makes her final transition,” and donations can be made at actionnetwork.org.
If you would like to learn more about her amazing and unselfish life, the producers of “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs” are donating 100% of all DVD sales through the end of December to support Grace’s care. So you can get a DVD, learn all about her, and help a truly worthy person. For a woman who has truly given her whole life, it’s nice to be able to give back.
Also offering something in return for your contribution, Densho, the Seattle-based organization that has dedicated itself to preserving and sharing the Japanese American story through its archival website, encyclopedia and teacher training programs, has a special year-end bonus. For a donation of $125, you can get a copy of the DVD “Conscience and the Constitution” or David Ono’s “Witness: The Legacy of Heart Mountain,” two award-winning documentaries that should have a permanent place in any JA collection.
When trying to choose where to donate, there’s an age-old debate on whether to go with your heart or donate where the money does the most good. With so many charities from which to choose, I admit that I rely purely on emotion. Because I am a devotee of the arts, I favor organizations that suffered when arts funding became sparse. I consider the arts one of the most valuable assets to any civilized society (and honest, it’s not just because I happen to be involved in the arts).
On the serious and critical side, something must be said for people who truly understand the power of giving by donating such life-saving things as kidneys or bone marrow (I wish I were one of them). After reading the recent **Rafu** article on Christine Schneider losing her husband and needing a kidney to stay alive for their 8-year-old son, I’m hoping that someone far bigger than I will step forward to donate a kidney to help save her life. At least I can offer a small money donation at youcaring.com/kidney4christine,where others can do the same.
I try not to focus on how much or how dearly to give. After all, isn’t it those who have the least to give and still manage to write out a check or two that demonstrates what the holiday season is all about?
Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey, and she can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.